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Archive for June, 2008

I’m in a sophisticated phase of parenting called bargaining, negotiating and bribery.

I’m not proud, but I’ll do what it takes to ensure that the monkeys not only know that they shouldn’t pull their teacher’s hair in school but that they don’t actually do it.

A couple of weeks ago there was a lot of misbehaving at school. In a single day they were in and out of time out about four times each at school. I was unsure of how to handle it. But I knew that I didn’t really want to be the parent of the worst behaved boys at school. After all, our parent-teacher conference was just around the corner. So I tried a tactic I thought might work: bribery. 

At dinner, I set up the challenge: “If you can get through the day without getting into trouble tomorrow, we’ll go to Ikea for dinner.” By far, the monkey’s favorite place to go out to dinner is Ikea. I guess that’s what happens if you never take your children to McDonald’s. 

The next day I reinforced the bribe with a simple message. “There will be three rules for school today. 1) No crying when mommy drops you off. 2) Listen to your teachers. 3) Have fun. If you follow all the rules we get to go to Ikea for dinner.” For good measure, I let their teacher in on the set up. That way she could invoke the Ikea incentive if she needed to.

It worked like a charm. They were little angels at school and we had a fun dinner at Ikea. Easing my guilt on invoking the Ikea incentive was the fact that I am not the only mom at school that uses that particular motivation tool – we ran into another family eating there, too.

I was quite pleased with the result of the bribe. The problem, of course, is that I don’t really want to eat dinner at Ikea every night. This particular spate of bad behavior subsided without the need for another bribe, though, and we moved on.

Until this Monday, when the monkeys came home from school. “How was school?” I asked innocently. “Monkey #1 stepped on teacher’s toe,” reported Monkey #2. (No, they don’t actually call each other monkey). “On purpose or by accident?” I ask. “By accident and on purpose,” he replied. Turns out Monkey #1 stepped on the teacher’s toe a lot. Four times before he got sent to time out, in fact.

So I tried a new incentive – their favorite brunch place, Morning Glory. “If you behave in school all week, we can go to Morning Glory for lunch on Friday. You can have Monkey French Toast.” (Yes, it’s called Monkey French Toast. It is a delicious sugar bomb with fruit thrown in for good measure.)

I sent them to school with this great promise, only to end up with some very sad monkeys at the end of the day. See, they’re 3. And when Mr. Daddy picked them up from school, they wanted to go to Morning Glory for Monkey French Toast. They’re not really up on the days of the week and they didn’t understand that I didn’t mean tonight, I meant at the end of the week. And the end of the week looks a long way away when it’s Tuesday.

Morning Glory closes at 3, so I couldn’t make good on the promise they thought they’d heard. I talked them down, and explained everything, and they kind of got it, but not really. I had to keep explaining it and re-explaining it all week. They did behave in school, though, and we are going to Morning Glory tomorrow. 

The Ikea success vs. Morning Glory failure taught me something about incentives. The Ikea incentive works because there’s a direct correlation between their behavior and the reward. It’s timely for the way that they perceive time. The Morning Glory incentive might work for an adult, or even an older kid, but a week is too long long for 3 year-olds to wait for their reward.

The folks that I work with  are smart, overachieving people who generally do great work. We try to reward them for their work with salary increases, promotions, and recognition, but we don’t always do a great job. Often, I think, our incentives feel less like the Ikea incentive and more like the Morning Glory incentive. The connection to their particular contributions isn’t always clear. And we don’t always promote people and give them raises in a timely fashion. Of course, they don’t throw tantrums or hit me when I’ve missed the mark, but a lack of good incentives can still be a problem.

Sometimes I teach my kids. And sometimes, I learn from them.

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This is a zen Buddhist koan shared by Robyn Waters at the Jump@10 mini conference last week.

She’s the former VP of Trend & Design at Target Corp, current rock star at inspiring people and companies to think smartly, inspirationally, and honestly about their growth. I think she’s an excellent example of where combining your work passions with your life passions can lead you. She’s gone from a stellarcorporate career that almost ate her life to a careerr where she’s a writer/speaker/adviser who sets her own metrics for what successful work looks like and how that plays a part in a successful life. It is inspiring.

And I love the power that that quote reminds us about – our own power to take action to turn on the light. It’s so easy to imagine the shadows of villains all around us – our bosses, our partners, our kids – conspiring to make our lives difficult. When really, often, we’re getting in our own way.

Step out!

 

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My company just celebrated it’s 10th Anniversary. To celebrate, we invited some amazing thinkers and doers to talk about whatever they’re thinking about and doing these days. My brain is full of interesting ideas, which I’m sure will spill into the blog over time.

But today I’m thinking about one speaker in particular, Andy Hargadon. His blog is here. He’s a prof at the UC Davis School of Management with a very impressive bio.  One of the things that I appreciate the most about his work is the way he explodes the myths around ideas and innovation. Andy has discovered that innovation isn’t about building a better mousetrap. It’s about building networks of relationships between buyers, sellers, advocates, financiers, etc around the mousetrap. Without the networks, even the best mousetrap just sits on some stores shelf or, worse, in your warehouse. According to Andy, the idea is only the beginning of the innovation process. The hard part is what comes next, building the right network around the idea.

Anyone who has ever created a great product that didn’t succeed knows how true Andy’s findings are. Most new products that are introduced fail. And sure, some fail because they’re not actually better. But many excellent ideas still don’t succeed, and a lack of a supporting infrastructure, or network, is one common reason.

Parents who don’t want to constantly be tearing their hair out also leverage the power of the network. We have a network of teachers, babysitters, grandparents and great-grandparents that help us care for the monkeys while we work and play. They’re not just there for child-care, though. They’re critical parts of our child raising network because they can teach them things that we can’t. Mom mom, the monkey’s great grandmother, is good for introducing new songs and stories. Pop Pop, their grandfather, knows how to dig giant holes in the sand. Nana knows the entire tune of Peter and the Wolf. I know how to make pizza dough. We all play our part.

The network isn’t just critical to working moms, either. My sister-in-law just told me about her friend who decided to host a summer camp in her home. Her three kids each invited a couple of friends over, she hired a teacher or two, and voilla, instant summer fun. The kids got to participate in some new activities, the moms got a bit of a break, and the hosts didn’t even have to change out of their PJs until 10 AM.

The myth of the nuclear family is almost as strong as the myth of the lone inventor. Believe in either at your own expense – not only are you less likely to succeed, you’re less likely to have fun while you’re doing it.

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Someone found my blog yesterday by googling “hit new husband with rolling pin.” I am so proud.

The search tracking capability of wordpress is great because it allows you to see the digital wake that your writing leaves. Themes, posts and comments all merge together in this wake in a way that the writer can’t control. So if you want the right people to find your stuff for the right reasons, you need to generally be conscious about the types of posts you write and the language within those posts.

This makes me think of another wake metaphor that my team coach, Sarah Singer Nourie, has talked to my team about. She talks about how people, like boats, have a wake. Often times, the higher a person is in an organization, or the bigger their personality, the bigger their wake. Just like boats. What this means is that even your intentional actions – walking through the office, stopping or not stopping to talk – have unintentional consequences. The leader who is always running and never walks sends an implicit ‘hurry up’ or ‘oh, no, the company is on fire’ message. The leader who always walks the same path, stopping to talk to the same few people, sends a message about who is important and who is not.

As a parent, I can see the results of my wake on my children. When I’m stressed about getting them to school on time so I can get to a meeting, they tend to be high anxiety, too. Especially in the house. The minute we get outside and we are headed where we’re going, we all visibly relax. And if I’m calm and intentional, they’re more likely to act that way too, with me and each other.

The more intentional we are about our behavior, the more our wake has a desirable impact, not a destructive one.

Of course there are exceptions. I kinda like this post  about making sure that expectations and standards are aligned to foster good communication. The wake: ‘jeans that make your butt look good’ is one of the most popular terms that people search when they find my blog. I just hope they’re not too disappointed.

 

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Sue Shellenbarger wrote a nice post about how women indirectly influence how their spouses parent a few days ago on The Juggle, the WSJ’s blog on juggling work and parenting. A study written up in Journal of Family Psychology found that the way a new mom reacts to her spouse’s parenting efforts has a huge impact on whether he is an engaged and participatory parent.

If she encourages him, sets aside time for him to hang with the new baby, and complements him in front of others, he’s more likely to stay engaged. If she rolls her eyes, mocks him, or talks him down to the baby (you know ‘daddy dressed you in a silly outfit, didn’t he’), he’s likely to back away from involvement.

As a new mom, I was totally insecure. One of the ways that I hid it was to pretend I knew what I was doing. Because the monkeys outnumbered me, I couldn’t pretend that I could do it alone. Mr. Daddy had to get involved early, which I think has been great for our relationship and the relationship that he has with the monkeys.

When I went back to work, I started traveling. Because Mr. Daddy was always home at night, there was another reason that he had to stay very involved with their care. Even in these circumstances, though, I could see that the more I tried to tell him what to do, or, even worse, ‘fix’ the mess he had made with their outfits, their diapers or their cribs, the more he would back off. I quickly learned that the only thing I’d get out of micro-managing was the opportunity to do it all myself. No thank you.

Managers and bosses can have the same effect on their employees. The boss who always re-writes her associates’ documents no matter how good they are will find, over time, that they always come to her in need of a rewrite. Any smart worker learns not to waste her time if the work is going to be ‘fixed’ anyway.

Many good leaders are conscious of this kind of overt over correction, and avoid doing it. What we might not always be conscious of are the indirect ways we teach those who work for/with us to be helpless — withcomments to other colleagues, expressive body language, not taking time to communicate properly or even not giving people enough time to get something right.

The result in the workplace is the same as the result in the home: lack of engagement and lack of participation. These subtle messages that you’re not doing a good job results in you not doing a good job, and often, not doing the job at all. Which works out well for the manager or the parent who wants to do it all herself. And is a good reminder for the rest of us to think about how we empower others.

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One of my fantasies – yes, this is my life, and this is a fantasy – is to really organize the monkeys’ toys. We have a bunch of bins, but I want bins with labels. I want the boxes in the bins to have labels. So that everyone involved in putting stuff away knows exactly where to put stuff. And so that when we want to play with something, we know exactly where to find all of it’s pieces.

Sadly, this remains in the realm of fantasy. But I’ll get it done, hopefully in time for the monkeys to be able to read the labels.

I got a little cautionary tale on what not to do with the system the other day at Whole Foods. Here’s their new system for waste management.

 

There are 6 different bins, each labeled. From left to right the labels read: Landfill Only , Co-Mingle Only, Compost Only, Compost Only, Plastic Bag and Wrap Only, Landfill Only. There are some equally obtuse sub headers under the labels.

The other day while I ate dinner at the little cafe, I watched about four people approach the trash cans, stare blankly, squint, and then throw everything in the “Landfill Only” category. Nice work, Whole Foods. You’ve confused the heck out of your shoppers. And made more landfill in the process.

An effort to create a system where everything has it’s place doesn’t quite work if it’s too complicated to follow. So I’m guessing my ‘creative playthings’ category won’t be as useful as labeling a box ‘finger puppets & musical instruments.’ Good to know.

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The other day, I was reminded about an article that I read in the Harvard Business Review a few years ago on reasoning by analogy, How Strategists Really Think.

The basic premise of the article is that while reasoning by analogy can be a really great tool for strategic thinking, it’s equally likely to mislead companies. In an attempt to make reasoning by analogy a successful strategic tool, the articles authors, Giovanni Gavetti and Jan Rivkin propose 4 guidelines for reasoning by analogy.

  1. Articulate the analogy – make your assumptions explicit.
  2. Identify why the source strategy worked – make sure you’ve accurately understood the rules of the game.
  3. Identify the similarities and differences between the source and the target setting – make sure you acknowledge and understand when the analogy is transferable and when it is not.
  4. Translate your strategy to the new setting – borrow what you can, make modifications as necessary.

I was thinking about this after applying an analogy on my kids that totally failed. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, we were planning to make pizzas with the monkeys. To get them excited about it, I brought them to Fante’s, the fabulous ‘kitchen arts’ store in our neighborhood. They helped me pick out rolling pins. And then we went home and made pizza. The trip to the store really built up their sense of occasion. Once we got home and turned the house into a pizzeria, they were totally engrossed in the activity for about 1/2 an hour. (See gratuitous cute kids video here.) Pretty good for two almost three-year-olds.

Fast forward a few weeks and I start thinking about the cakes for the boys birthday party. This year, I’ve decided to try and make the cake myself. But I couldn’t figure out what kind of cake to make. So I thought it would be a good idea to take the boys to Fante’s to pick out a cake pan. After all, they had so much fun buying the rolling pin.

Of course, I got the analogy all wrong. The rolling pin was a much easier choice -there were only about 4 or 5 versions of them. And it didn’t really matter which one we picked out. Worse case scenario: we end up with a $20 rolling pin instead of a $2 version. I know how to use both of them to make pizza.  Ultimately, picking out a rolling pin is low stakes. Involving the kids is a no brainer.

But a pan for a birthday cake is a whole different ballgame. Sure, it’s the same store, but that’s where the similarity ends. You see, some cakes are hard to make and decorate and others are simple. Despite my best attempts to steer the boys to a heart shaped pan (the design we had talked about on our way to the store), a star, even a simple lion or a truck, they wouldn’t bite. They were indecisive for a painful 20 minutes – not very fun in a crowded store. And when the did decide, they chose this: In case you don’t recognize him, its Pablo from the Backyardigans. He comes complete with his own icing kit.

You may not know this from reading my blog, but I’m not really a baker. And I’m certainly no illustrator. So this weekend will be really interesting when I try to make a cake that looks anything like that adorable singing penguin. But that’s not really the point. The point is, I reasoned by analogy, and foolishly didn’t think through whether the circumstances were actually analogous. Turns out they were not.

Now I don’t always mess this up. I have had a few successful analgies. One of my favorite is the use of the ‘Goodbye song’ from tumbling class. You know, ‘you touch the ground, you touch the sky, you turn around and you say, goodbye.’ It’s brilliant. Totally distracts kids from the fact that their favorite hour of the week is over. It also works when it’s time to say goodbye to the polar bears at the zoo, a favorite toy, or the Bob the Builder DVD you’ve been watching for so long that the song is etched into the deepest recesses of your brain. Makes sense, doesn’t it. The song helps kids make transitions. And does in fact work for almost any transition. 

Reasoning by analogy can be very useful, for both strategists and for parents. You just gotta watch out for situations that look the same but aren’t. Or you could end up with a Pablo, oh, yeah, two Pablo cake pans. Anyone need a cake pan for their next birthday party?  

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